The scene: Late one night at a listening post, deep in the bowels of the Department of Homeland Security. Two agents, a veteran and a rookie, huddle over a wiretap monitor.
Veteran agent: Thank God the Democrats rolled over on that new wiretapping bill and gave the president what he wanted, eh, kid?
Rookie agent: Sir?
Veteran: Warrants, kid -- no more warrants! Who needs ’em, anyway?
Rookie: Uh, aren’t warrants before wiretaps a right guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment?
Veteran: Amendment, aschmendment! Warrants are nuthin’ but goddamned pieces of paper, keeping us from protecting America against those who seek to harm it. And son?
Rookie: Yes, sir?
Veteran: I suggest you tone it down a bit. You’re beginning to sound like one of those ACLU freaks.
The wiretap monitor weakly crackles and hisses.
Veteran: Hold it, kid. A call’s comin’ in from London. To Sacramento, looks like.
Rookie: I didn’t know we were monitoring London, sir.
Veteran: We’re not, but what difference does that make? Never forget: Terrorists can be anywhere, and anyone can be a terrorist. In our business of minding the business of others, once you understand that, you’re home free.
Rookie: (under his breath) “Free” isn’t the first word that comes to mind.
Veteran: Shh! Here comes the call...
The monitor continues to crackle. A cultured voice with a British accent speaks.
Brit: I do say, people love you, Arnie, and ...
The monitor sputters.
Rookie: What are they saying, sir? I can’t make it out through all the static.
Veteran: They’re saying they love his army! Hot damn, we found us some terrorists!
Rookie: But, sir, are you cert-- ?
Veteran: Quiet! Listen. There’s more.
The monitor continues to fade in and out. A second voice, this one with a heavy Teutonic accent, is heard.
Teuton: Ya, I love dem, too, Chuck, uh-speshuhly all da girls, heh-heh. Ya know, da ones wit’ da big bazoombas.
The monitor makes noises that sound like “glrrble” and “sprack.”
Veteran: Bazoombas! Must be some powerful new weapon.
Rookie: Powerful, yes, indeed, sir. New, not so much. (Pause) Sir, I’m looking at the electronic screen here on our recently-installed Discussion-Activated Finder of Terrorists --
Veteran: That’s DAFT, boy.
Rookie: Yes, sir, that it is. Anyway, the screen here indicates that this call is originating in Buckingham Palace and being placed to the state Capitol in Sacramento. It appears these two aren’t terrorists at all, sir: They’re England’s Prince Charles and California Governor Arnold --
Veteran: I don’t give a hoot if they’re subversive peaceniks like Mohammed Gandhi himself, we’re --
Rookie: That’s Mahatma, sir.
Veteran: Whatever. Frankly, son, you worry me. Don’t you know America is at war with monsters who threaten our liberties and we must use every tool we can to stop them?
Rookie: Yes, sir. I guess I just don’t understand how we can save our liberties by eliminating them.
Veteran (eyes narrowed): Tell me, boy: what do you think of Jane Fonda?
The monitor continues popping and hissing. The British voice is heard, again.
Brit: I was just telling Camilla over tea --
Veteran: Holy H-bomb! “Camilla”! Isn’t that the name of that Soprano fella’s wife? For the love of God, these terrorists will stop at nothing. Now they’re hooking up with gangsters!
Rookie: Forgive me, sir, but I do believe you mean “Carmela,” and The Sopranos was just a TV show, one that’s off the air now.
Veteran: Always with the details! Whose side are you on, anyway, kid? Wait -- I hear something else.
The monitor makes a noise that sounds like a cat coughing up a large fur ball.
Teuton: I suh-gest you use oil for da muscles, Chah-ley. Vait till you see how it makes alla your big guns shine so dat da girls.
The Teutonic voice is interrupted by a loud “screeee.”
Veteran: Oil! Allah! Big guns! That seals it. We got us some terrorists here.
Rookie: Really, sir, but with all due respect, you’re accusing an English prince and the governor of California -- a Republican no less -- of being terrorists. Don’t you think this whole thing has gotten out of hand?
Veteran: Impossible! Like I was telling Mom just the other day at the detention center: in a time of war, no one can be trusted. Plus, I gotta say son, all your unpatriotic whining about the Constitution is exactly the sort of loose talk that aids terrorists.
Rookie: (exasperated) You’re telling me Al Qaeda won’t budge from their caves until they’re inspired by everyday conversation here in America, thereby implying that somehow they hear everything we say?
Veteran: It ain’t just Al Qaeda.
There is a loud and persistent knock at the door.
Rookie: Who could that be? It’s the middle of the night.
Veteran: That’s right, son. That’s when they always come.
Rookie: Wha-- ? Who?
The door is kicked open. Two beefy men wearing Blackwater security uniforms enter, guns drawn.
Veteran: Take ’im away, boys!
Rookie: But, but --
Veteran: Don’t say I didn’t warn ya, kid. You never know who might be listening. Which, after all, is the whole point.
Fade to black.
Copyright © 2007 Mark Drolette. All rights reserved. (published originally in the Sacramento News & Review)